Common Moorhen

Common Moorhen



COMMON NAME: common moorhen, swamp chicken
KINGDOM: Animalia
PHYLUM: Chordata
ORDER: Gruiformes
FAMILY: Rallidae
GENUS SPECIES: Gallinula chloropus


DESCRIPTION: The moorhen coloration is distinctive, with a slate-black breast, dark black head and neck, olive-green back, white rump, and a white stripe on each flank. The moorhen stands erect on large yellow legs and feet. Each leg has a red band above the upper joint just below the feathers. The feature that distinguishes it from other gallinules is the bright red shield on the face between the eyes.
SIZE: Adults may be 36 cm (14 in.) in length
WEIGHT: Adult common moorhens weigh between 200-340 g (7-12 oz.)
DIET: No data
INCUBATION: Both male and female share the task of incubating the eggs. After about 3 weeks, the chicks hatch. The young are able to swim soon after they hatch, but interestingly enough they lose this skill as they mature.
CLUTCH SIZE Common moorhens breed from April to August. The female lays a clutch of 6-10 eggs, and may lay 2-3 clutches in a season.
FLEDGING DURATION Within 3 weeks the young are able to feed themselves and within 7 weeks they are able to fly. The young, however, stay with their parents until fall to help raise later broods.
LIFE SPAN: Rarely live more than 3 years
RANGE: A common water bird, the moorhen is plentiful in North, Central, and South America as well as Eurasia, Africa, and Indonesia
HABITAT: This bird can be found in freshwater ponds, marshes, parks, and other public places where it can hide and feed among the reeds. It is less common in brackish or saltwater areas. Some moorhens have been known to fly great distances, especially those in northern areas, which migrate south during the winter.
STATUS: IUCN The Hawaiian and Mariana subspecies are listed as Endangered
CITES Not listed
USFWS Not listed


1. Except during the breeding season, moorhens are social birds that gather into flocks of 15-30 individuals. An older adult male is generally the dominant member of these groups.
2. This bird is also called a swamp chicken since it is about the size of chicken and has a chicken-like body shape.


Although not considered threatened, common moorhens face the continued threat of habitat destruction and hunting by humans.


Perrins, C.M. and Alex Middleton. The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Birds. New York: Prentice Hall Press, 1990.

Peterson, R.T. A Field Guide to Western Birds. Boston. Houghton Mifflin Co. 1990.

Gough, G.A., Sauer, J.R., Iliff, M. Patuxent Bird Identification Infocenter. 1998. Version 97.1. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD.